Penniman, Richard Wayne

“Little Richard” (Penniman, Richard Wayne)

(1935–  ) musician; born in Macon, Ga. One of the early and most flamboyant stars of rock 'n' roll, he sang and played piano in church choirs and with gospel groups throughout his childhood, performing in medicine shows on the Southern vaudeville circuit. He made his recording debut with RCA in 1952 in Atlanta, and continued to record in a blues style for independent labels in Houston and New Orleans over the next four years. In 1956 he had a breakthrough single, "Tutti Frutti," which sold 3 million copies and established his basic style of histrionic singing and manic piano playing. Over the next three years, he sold over 18 million records and appeared in several motion pictures, but in 1960 he became a minister in the Seventh Day Adventist church and renounced rock 'n' roll and his own homosexuality. He returned to rock in 1963, touring England with the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and he straddled the worlds of pop music and evangelism over the next 30 years. In 1986, he became an inaugural member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. In 1989, "Tutti Frutti" was named the official rock song of the state of Georgia.

Penniman, Richard Wayne

See Little Richard.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.